Christina Riley reviews Mermaids’ first Byre production of the year, The 39 Steps.

The Mermaids’ Byre productions are always highly anticipated within the St Andrews theatre scene, and Ed Polsue’s rendition of The 39 Steps far surpassed expectations. It wasn’t the storyline but the script interpretation and overall talent of its actors and crew that drove the show throughout.

Harrison Roberts and Louis Wilson took on a variety of roles as the show’s clowns, the audience erupting into laughter each time they took to the stage. The directorial decisions coupled with Roberts and Wilson’s proclivity for humour was a perfect match; the simplicity of their bowing sequence, acting as props themselves, and running back and forth from the wings with a lamppost accompanied by comedic musical scores proved to be some of the highlights of the performance. The audience was allowed to escape from reality in moments of pure and unadulterated fun. It seems clear that the nature of Roberts and Wilson’s roles would have them commanding the stage. With that said, however, Daniel Jonusas (Richard Hannay) and Alexandra Upton (Anabella and Pamela) also assumed their roles perfectly, providing their own fair share of anecdotal comedies. The onstage actors were a mesmerising blend of talent and were truly a joy to watch, particularly due to the use of hyperbolised physical comedy juxtaposed with the subtleties of Upton’s character.

With the laugh-a-minute performance, even the minor hiccups added humour as they were fitting with the clown comedy: a stage hand creeping out from the wings to recover the forgotten “dead body” of Professor Jordan, or Mr Memory’s inhalation and subsequent choking on his fake moustache, provided raw and vulnerable moments where actors and audience alike were laughing at the unpredictability and excitement of the live stage. Despite being unscripted, they merely added to the metatheatrical elements of the show, which was already present in the farcical humour of his clowns and props – such as a toy helicopter manned by his actors behind a white screen. The playfulness of the show was its best virtue; the show was created with an inability to hide behind elaborate details and was a true testament to the art and skill of its makers.

The quality of The 39 Steps was exceptional. A stunning performance from Polsue and his team showcased the pinnacle of St Andrews’ theatre. Polsue in his director’s note stated that he hoped the production would speak for itself, and what was witnessed spoke in volumes louder than much of what has come before. Costuming, staging, acting and direction worked in a seamless tranquillity to create an utterly spectacular performance.

Rating: Five stars

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